Pretrial Release Without Money: New York City, 1987-2018

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Introduction Should New York end the use of money bail? What legislative framework would best limit the use of pretrial detention while promoting court appearance? As elected officials consider updating New York’s 1970 bail statute, these questions have come under intense debate. One place to start is by establishing a baseline of current pretrial practice in New York City. Although limited by the 1970 legislative framework, judges have broad discretion in making pretrial release decisions. Those practices may vary from judge to judge, but when viewed in the aggregate broad trends can be discerned.

“This research brief will document New York City’s embrace of pretrial release without money — a trend that accelerated in 2018.” To analyze these trends, CJA compiled over 5 million pretrial release decisions from the last three decades. The data follow a clear pattern: from 1987 to the present, courts have moved further and further away from the use of monetary forms of pretrial release towards release without money. In fact, for the first time in over three decades, in 2018 the volume of release without money was more than three times that of money bail. At the same time, the city’s jail population has declined, from a high of nearly 22,000 in 1991 to 7,862 at the beginning of 2019. While New Jersey and California have recently abolished money bail by legislation, New York City has reduced its use by nearly two-thirds without legislative reform. At its peak, in 1989, judges set monetary bail in 83,705 cases continued at arraignment (47 percent). By 2018, that number had fallen to 30,288 (23 percent). Meanwhile the rate of release without money rose from a low of 50 percent in 1990 to a high of 76 percent in 2018. This research brief will document New York City’s embrace of pretrial release without money — a trend that accelerated in 2018. It will show that judicial willingness to release defendants without money has varied by a defendant’s arraignment charge, with rates of nonmonetary release highest for defendants charged with a misdemeanor or less. It will also show differences by borough, with higher rates of release without money seen in the Bronx, Brooklyn and Queens. The data will also reveal a small improvement in already robust court appearance rates for defendants released on their own recognizance. Finally, it explores how pretrial justice in New York City compares to the rest of the country. About The Data ►► The dataset used in the analysis
was created by the New York City Criminal Justice Agency, the city’s main pretrial justice agency, in partnership with the New York City Mayor’s Office of Criminal Justice. It spans from 1987 to 2018 and includes over 5.3 million unique pretrial release decisions made by judges at a defendant’s initial court appearance (i.e., arraignment). The analysis is restricted to cases continued at arraignment, arising from either (a) a summary arrest, or (b) a desk appearance ticket (DAT) in which the defendant appeared at the initial arraignment. This excludes all release decisions made subsequent to an initial arraignment. 2